Florence may be significantly smaller than Rome but it is definitely the art capital of Italy. Even just walking through the streets, you feel like you are walking through a museum with all of the gorgeous and colorful architecture. (One suggestion though: try to visit during the winter or spring as the summer gets quite hot and the city gets flooded with tourists.)
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The Highlights Uffizi Gallery
The hall leading up to the
David in The Academia is lined with Michelangelo's unfinished Prisoners. Created between 1516 and 1534, they were commissioned by Pope Julius II for his tomb. The tomb was however never completed and neither were the statues. (Pope Julius II was the same man who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.)
Michelangelo viewed sculpting as a tool to simply reveal the images that God put in the marble. He never marked up the stone and simply freehand the sculpting, starting from the front and chipping away the excess towards the back. These prisoners give the viewer a glimpse into Michelangelo's artistic process.
Across from him stands the "Awakening Prisoner." Michelangelo never gave the sculptures names as they were never finished. So, the names that are used today are simply given by art critics.
This "Bearded Prisoner" is the most finished piece of the set.
by Michelangelo Buonarroti has come to be one of the symbold of the Renaissance. It represents the triumph of humanism from the Renaissance over the pessimism and oppression from the Middle Ages.
David tells the Bible story of a young shepherd boy who defeated a barbarian named Goliath. David is likely pictured here sizing up his enemy. He stands with a rock in his right hand and a sling in his left. The confidence that the classic contrapposto pose exudes stems from the fact that he is backed by God. Critics have argued that David's hand is too overdeveloped for the reality of the young shepherd boy that he is supposed to represent. Others claim that this is simply a reflection of God's power in David's human hands.
Michelangelo was commissioned to make this statue at 26 years old for the top of the Duomo. Because the statue took three years to make, the plans changed and it was instead placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio to guard the building. Due to this change in purpose, the proportions of the head are slightly off as it was supposed to be seen from a great distance and not up close.
David measures 14 ft high and towered on the Palazzo Vecchio until 1873, when he was moved to The Academia to protect the piece from the elements.
The neighboring room features a sculpture named the "Rape of the Sabines" (1582) by Giambologna. This sculpture depicts Roman warriors trampling on Sabine men and stealing their wives to populate their growing empire. This work, as well as many others, was inspired by the works of Michelangelo. This specific sculpture is based on
Victory by Michelangelo which can be seen on Piazza della Signoria.
Between the Academia and Palazzo Vecchio stands the Duomo. It is one of the most iconic symbols of Florence. Construction on the Duomo began at the end of the medieval times in 1296. With the society becoming wealthier as a whole and moving towards the Renaissance, the people decided that they needed a bigger church. The Duomo was then begun in 1296 with the goal of becoming the largest church in history, as it was until new building technology was invented. Nonetheless, the Duomo still makes the top ten list of the largest churches in the world.
A close-up of the front façade reveals just how elaborate the design is. In fact, locals think that the design is too over the top and call it "the cathedral in pajamas". The idea for this design was devised by Emilio De Fabris and inspired by the Italian unification, hence the red, green and white colors. While the church itself is very old, the original façade was never finished and was completely redone by Fabris and his team in 1871, who tried to preserve the feeling of the original design.
In this close-up, we can also see a sculpture of Mary and child above the arch on the main doors. This is fitting as the actual name for this cathedral is
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (or Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower). It is referred to as the Duomo from the Latin word for "house", in the sense of the house of God.
This (somewhat shaky) panorama of the Piazza del Duomo is intended to show the sheer size and the layout of the complex. Unlike the façade of the Duomo, the campanile (i.e. bell tower) and the cupola (i.e. dome) are highly regarded.
The campanile was designed by Giotto di Bondone, in the 1300s, and is thus commonly referred to as Giotto's Tower. Later. in the 1400s, the dome was built by Filippo Brunelleschi. Interestingly enough, while the church was being built, in the 1200s, the architects did not know how they would build it but were confident that someone would figure it out in the future. And they were right. Brunelleschi studied the dome of the Pantheon and built the ribbed, brick dome that now crowns the Duomo. During his time, this dome was the largest one ever built. Today, it remains the largest brick dome ever built. Even though the dome seems to be the only part of the cathedral made out of brick, the cathedral is entirely built from brick and is simply covered by marble slabs.
Regardless of the view on any of these structures, this entire complex is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Facing the Duomo is the Baptistery. It is the oldest building in Florence, dating back to about one thousand years ago. In 1401, Florence held a competition to find the artist who would design the doors. Lorenzo Ghiberti won the competition, beating out Brunelleschi, who later designed the cupola.
The more famous Baptistery doors, however, are the east doors (pictured here), facing the church. Ghiberti was commissioned to design these doors in 1425, which feature a great deal more depth and artistic mastery. Michelangelo, himself, is believed to have said that these doors are fit to be the gates to paradise.
The ten panels on the doors display various scenes from the Bible. It took Ghiberti 27 years to complete these panels.
This painting of "Madonna delle Grazie" by Bernardo Daddi rests within a Gothic tabernacle created by Orcagna, located in the Orsanmichele church. It was placed here after the bubonic plague of 1348. Half of Florence's population perished in this church and the rest came to give thanks to this Madonna and Child.
What caught my eye most in this church were the illusionary paintings in the shallow niche's on the walls to the sides. When viewed in person, the shading is done so expertly that I had to move around to ensure that it was in fact a painting and not an actual statue.
Finally, the Palazzo Vecchio is located on the other side of town before the river Arno. Here a replica
David stands to the left of Town Hall's entrance, guarding the building. To the right of Town Hall, is the Uffizi Gallery. Head to the next tab to see some of the gems in that museum.
On the Piazza della Signoria there is also an open building containing sculptures such as the marble version of the
Rape of the Sabines.
While the Tiramisu might be from the Veneto region, I had the most delicious Tiramisu I've ever tasted in Florence.
Open air sculpture can be seen all around town. The Uffizi is no exception. Each one of the niches on the Uffizi building is filled with an important figure from the Renaissance. Do you recognize any of them?
Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) is famous for painting the Scrovegni Chapel frescoes and designing the campanile.
Donatello (1386-1466) is a famous Italian sculptor.
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) wrote (Dante's)
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an Italian diplomat who contributed greatly to the field of political science as we know it today.
Madonna and Child from around 1310. This altarpiece is typical for the pre-Renaissance period, with its lack of depth perception and specific location. Instead, the holy figures are flat and floating in space. The goal of these paintings was never to make them realistic but merely to teach the illiterate masses about religion.
Yet another religious piece from the Middle Ages,
The Annunciation (1333) by Simone Martini depicts the moment when Mary is told that she is the chosen one. The vase of lilies between her and the angel signals her innocence. The dove above is a symbol of the holy spirit. Here again, the goal isn't to make the scene realistic but simply to get the message across. Madonna and Child
(1465) by Fra Filippo Lippi is very different from the altar piece we saw before. The scene is set on a nondescript place on Earth instead of on a sea of gold and the figures are more representative of humans. Fra Filippo Lippi searched for the perfect model to represent the Virgin Mary. Here, she looks very human. Her innocence and divine nature are simply shown through perfect beauty and serene gestures. My favorite part of this painting is the mischievous boy in the bottom right. It takes great skill to be able to master such a realistic expression.
(Note: "Fra" means "brother", relating to the artist's position as a monk. It should be noted though that this monk did not quite follow all of the rules of his position, living with a nun and having several children.
Out of all the paintings in the Uffizi,
La Primavera (or Allegory of Spring, in English) is my favorite, with its deep green background and innocently dancing figures. On the left, Mercury is picking an orange and the three graces are dancing. Cupid, blindfolded, is shooting arrows in any direction, without worrying about who the target is. On the right, springtime winds make flora sprout. Finally, in the center, Venus observes the scene of innocence and birth.
Possibly the most famous painting in the Uffizi Gallery, though, is the
Birth of Venus (c. 1485) by Sandro Botticelli. Legend has it that Venus was born from the foam of a wave and floated to land on a clam shell, propelled by the wind figures on the left. On the shore, a maid waits to dress Venus. The pastel colors and the tranquil expression on Venus give the feeling of innocence rather than a sensual vibe. According to Botticelli, appreciating beauty is appreciating God and everything that he has created.
Leonardi da Vinci's
The Annunciation from around 1475 is in stark contrast to that of Simone Martini. Using linear perspective, da Vinci is able to give the painting some depth. Yet, while the figures are more relaxed and the setting is more natural, it is still too perfect to represent real life, most likely in order to show the divine nature of the scene.
Adoration of the Magi (1496) by Fra Filippo Lippi is yet another example of where the artist uses serene beauty to convey innocence and purity. Though in this piece, he has also employed the use of a halo, making his point very explicitly. What I like about this painting is that each one of the characters seems to have their own unique personality.
The sculpture in the center is
Venus de' Medici. It is believed to have been created by Praxiteles in the first century before Christ and is quite obviously the inspiration for Botecelli's Venus in the Birth of Venus.
The statue to the left of the doorway is Appolino. Again made by Praxiteles, Appolino is viewed as the male counterpart of Venus. Throughout the room, you will also see various Medici family portraits. This room was used to show the family's wealth as well as to tie the room to powerful figures from the past, back when this building was still the Medici offices.
View of the Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi. The red tiled roof of the corridor that comes out of the building and leads to the Ponte Vecchio linked the Medici home to the offices. The corridor continues in the top portion of the Ponte Vecchio and allowed for a private commute to and from work.
The ceilings are also entirely painted and decorated with famous public figures of the time in the "grot-esque" style.
The Holy Family (1506) by Michelangelo displays two conflicting ideals. In the background, there are two groups of naked figures, representing the pagan ways of the past. On the forefront, the adult figures are fully clothed and baby Jesus represents the new ways of Christianity. It is interesting to note that even the frame of this painting was designed by Michelangelo.
This statue of Laocoön is an ancient work depicting the scene of Laocoön and his sons getting murdered by snakes. Before this scene, Laocoön figured out that the Trojan horse was filled with Greek soldiers there to take over Troy. He was on his way to warn his people when the Greek gods sent the snakes to kill him. The statue was uncovered in 1506 and is likely one of the inspirations for Michelangelo's dynamic sculptures. (This statue is a replica. The original is in the Vatican galleries.)
The Return from Egypt (1540) by Agnolo Bronzino Madonna of the Goldfinch (1506) by Raphael is the ideal representation of balance. If you imagine a line down the middle, you will see that John the Baptist on the left is balanced by Jesus on the right. The same goes for the trees in the background.
This painting, named
The Virgin in Adoration of the Child (1518-1520), by Correggio is to me the most honest painting of the duo. There is no exaggeration in the scenery or in any of the figures. Mary seems young and innocent and the baby is of normal size and color. These two figures are put in the spotlight by a weak sun, to show their importance without exaggerating it. Finally, the simple straw underneath the baby Jesus follows the story of Mary giving birth in a barn. Madonna of the Long Neck by Parmigianino is the perfect example of mannerism. The goal is no longer to create a realistic image but instead to stretch out some aspects of the painting in order to emphasize them. Baby Jesus is completely spread out to give him more of the canvas and thus more importance in the image. The Virgin Mary has the same hand placement as the Venus de' Medici and the one from the Birth of Venus. Yet, the elongated limbs and neck give her an unrealistic feature, intended to make her look more graceful.
Nicknamed "Madonna of the Roses" (1530), this oil on wood painting by Tiziano Vecellio reminds me of the sweet kindness of children. This is obviously a religious painting but it is also much more than that: a painting encouraging kindness and decency.
Venus of Urbino (1538) by Titian is a stark contrast to Botecelli's Birth of Venus. Where Botecelli's Venus was innocent and tranquil, Titian's Venus is more sensuous and has a very inviting look on her face. This contrast shows some of the differences between Florence's and Venice's Renaissance. Sacrifice of Isaac (1503) by Caravaggio was commissioned by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (who would later become Pope Urban VIII). One interesting point of this painting is that both Isaac and the angel are modeled after the same person. The model was Cecco Boneri, who was one of Caravaggio's pupils.